Thursday, May 31, 2012

Düsseldorf, Germany: Day 4

It's official. It takes me approximately four days to be comfortable with a foreign country. I am finally beginning to get my bearings in this land: where to go, how to behave, how to socialize, etc.

In fact, all the foreign students I study with at my language institue in Düsseldorf (IIK) either have no clue where I am from or have guessed various European nations. I suppose this goes to show how heavily influenced German clothing style is from American shops and designers. I am somewhat thankful this is the case because anonymity is the best thing one could ask for in Europe, where long, judgmental stares are commonplace. However, I am insulted when I see people wearing American baseball caps for simply the "style" of it and nothing more. Most Germans have no idea what baseball is!

How badly is this place trying to be the German equivalent of Forever 21. I don't remember being 18 was ever that great...
Amerika, the influential!
One way America has NOT influenced Germany is bathroom sizes. I could maybe fit two toothpicks in here! 

Speaking of the foreign students I study with, I find it funny that students from all the European nations (Spain, Italy, Greece, etc.) that are currently in the midst of economic turmoil are the ones coming to Germany to learn the language so they can one day live here. Conversely, the students from nations with relatively stable economies are few. I believe myself included, there are only three American students in total and one Canadian student. It seems there is a distinct influx of foreigners immigrating to Germany so that they may enjoy its prosperous economy.

Today had to be my best day. Everything simply seemed to work. I went early to IIK to change my course from afternoons to mornings. That worked. I went to purchase a monthly train and bus ticket. That worked. I went to buy peaches and ice tea. That worked. It was miraculous how fluid everything was today and I think having already gone to college for a year and being on my own has made a world of difference.

I'm keeping a close look on my expenses and [trying to] keeping them to a minimum. I'm meeting new people and challenging myself to talk to as many people as possible, and that's no trouble either. There's something about the German language that removes all the barriers I have in English. And in a way, German is more universal than English because in English, one's identity is exposed to moment a person opens his or her mouth. But in German, everyone is striving to speak with the same accent and there's a degree of universality to that. Something, at least, that is missing in English.

Also unlike America, when you look at a pretty girl, she's not afraid to look back!

Check out these pictures of my temporary home while you're processing that last statement:

The Dorf where I'm living is located near a "horse farm" Pferdfarm, could you tell? 
Tchüß Kumpels! 

Düsseldorf, Germany: Day 3

Day 3 on my German adventures was thoroughly alright. I had my first class, for which the professor was absolutely hilarious. However, the class seemed to drag on for four hours... oh wait, it is four hours! I guess the afternoon is not the best time for my brain to function. My vision grew blurry, I couldn't focus and consecutively answered questions wrong. As much as I loved my teacher, after that class, I requested to change for mornings. Fingers crossed I get the spot!

Later that day, though, things got better. I played a one-on-one match of soccer with my Israeli friend, Sadeq in the gravel court (think tennis court, but with two large metal squares made of metal pipes on each side). When we were then adequately dusty, we went on a run through our small village. Understandably, Sadeq had to take three breaks. I say understandably because he doesn't usually run. That'll change now that I'm here. 

Bis morgen!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Düsseldorf, Germany: Day 2


The tranquil neighborhood I'm living in! Super schön!
Only in Germany would a business man ride a scooter to work... Ehrlich?

Day 2 was in many ways not as successful as day 1. I woke up at (an early for me) 8 o' clock, took a shower and rushed to the S-Bahn (and small electric train) for my placement test for my German course at the International Intitut Kommunication, IIK for short.

My minuscule room, only for two days though.

While taking the test, I racked my brain to recall various grammar and syntax rules, but it was to no avail. I can chalk this up to taking only two full years of German, but whatever the cause, I will forever be a painfully poor test taker. 

After the exam, I went to the nearby Arcaden for some food. I was so desperately hungry, I was willing to eat virtually anything. I saw a fast food/carry out Asian restaurant, fittingly called "Asia Haiky" (don't ask me what "Haiky" means). As soon as I spoke to the Chinese woman at the register, with a "hi," she knew I was an American. My interactions with her only went downhill from there as she continued to speak English to me as her accented German proved fruitless. I was insulted the way she condescended me as an American and never gave me an opportunity to speak German. Her food was alright. 

Then as I returned to the S-Bahn, a lovely piece of gum that sat in the hot summer sun stuck to the bottom of my new pair of Sperrys. Mist! 

I rubbed the gum off, boarded the S-Bahn and was on my way. Until all of a sudden a conductor needs to see our tickets. I thought to myself "Ah, last time they never checked our tickets," so I was reluctant to insert my ticket in the machine so that it could be stamped, saving me some money (which is crucial in Europe, where nothing but the air is free). The man asked me where I was going, and again exposed my American-ness. But I was steadfast in my not-caring-who-knew-I-was-American. I begrudgingly inserted the ticket, rendering it now useless for future trips to school. Scheisse! 

I walked home with a lump on my back, feeling as though everyone in Germany hated me. I realized this wasn't the case, however, as I returned home to my Gastfamilie, where I felt loved yet again. 

I then realized I probably didn't do as well as I would have liked on the placement exam and clumsily revealed my identity because of how tired I was. I hopped in my bed, without any intention of sleeping for long, but I slept for three hours. 

What made my day was a run I went on. I couldn't tell you how long it was because this was my first time running in a country where miles are weird. Speaking of weird, I felt weird because I took my shirt off midway through my run. I wasn't fazed the number of stares I received. For me, it was just like America because there, I never bike with a shirt. So if the German public wants to check me out, so be it. 

An unusually patriotic German household. Brings back memories of 'Merica!

Culminating into a not-so-bad-day was the pizza parlor my Gastfamilie took me to. The margarita pizza I ordered was fabulous, albeit greasy, and good times were had by all. I especially appreciated the European pace of dining, where unlike America, we don't leave as soon as we are done. 

Is this pizza zu groß for Gina?


Um das Ende des Tages, nicht so schlecht! 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Düsseldorf, Germany: Day 1

Today was very tiring. So tiring in fact, after getting off my 9-hour plane ride from Chicago, I went to my host family's house only to be introduced to the residents (which include six students studying German from Israel, China and Peru), grilled and ate lunch with said family and went to play beach volleyball with a Pole, a Russian, a Hungarian and three Israelis. The walk to the indoor volleyball court in a former warehouse was long and exhausting, no thanks to the sweltering heat of the German metropolis.

Later, we went to the Altstadt (old city, or the city center) to eat. My newfound friends wanted Burger King, but I wanted a Döner Kebab...mmm. It's a Turkish street-food for which I have heard raving reports. The one okay, but not excellent. This was probably because my friend, Bartłomiej said there was a better and cheaper stand by IIK where we study German.

Bis morgen!

Friday, May 25, 2012

A Letter to My German Cousin: Let's See How I Did!

Hallo Nicole,
Ich heiße Michael Lenoch. Mein Vater (Vlado Lenoch) hat mir gesagt, dass wir verwand sind. (Ich glaube wir teilen eine Großmutter, die heißt Anna Willinger. Fragen Sie deinen Vater oder Mutter wenn Sie verwant mit Anna Willinger sein.) Anna hat gewohnt mit meinen Vater wann er aufgewachsen hat. Bitte nicht vermuten Sie, dass ich ein Lügner bin! (Und das ist bewiesen für wie schlecht mein Grammatik ist! Es soll klar, dass ich übersetze meine Sätze direkt aus Englisch.)

Auf jeden Fall, ich frage für keinen Geld. Stattdessen ich schreibe an ihr weil ich reise nach Deutschland für diesen Juni. Ich werde studieren Deutsch für einen ganzen Monat in Düsseldorf und werde wohnen mit einer Familie. Wahrscheinlich (hoffentlich) wir können uns treffen in Soest und Sie können mich die Stadt zeigen (ich weiß nicht welches Verb ich soll nutzen für "to show around town.")

Ja, ich weiß ich höre aus als ob ich verrückt bin, aber wir alle in Amerika sind!

Bitte vertrauen Sie mich,

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Bowling for Columbine: A New Perspective on Safety

Bowling for Columbine (2002), a documentary on America's obsession with guns, (and later safety), by Michael Moore is a compelling film that made me take a step back and realize how irrational Americans' fears truly are. It appears Americans' political correctness and fear for everything that is different than us can be seen in the wider world, what with the US' undeniable cultural imperialism and the antiseptic way it handles foreign affairs. The video below goes to show that Americans (or at least the American government) are their own enemies. 

Phenomenally, no other nation has had such issue on as grand a scale as the US. Germany has 381 murders per year, Britain 255, Japan 39, while the United States has had over 11,000 (and granted, Bowling for Columbine was created exactly ten years ago). 

Moore visited Windsor, Canada, and asked natives if they had locked their doors. Not a single individual reported they lock their doors. On the other hand, Americans will go so far as to use weapons to protect their already-locked homes from burglary. Culturally, it can be gleaned that Americans live in perpetual fear. Few other nations have a market for ADT household security systems, after all. Americans do not trust each other, and that is an endemic issue that plagues the entire nation and will continue to.   

Moore has cited the United States as a culture of paranoia. Due to the media's constant reinforcement of danger through crime reports, people take often overly precautionary measures to ensure their safety. For example, a number of individuals interviewed for Bowling for Columbine expressed that they keep loaded weapons in their household so as to fend for themselves given the off-chance an intruder were to trespass their home. One man even said he kept a loaded .45-caliber handgun underneath his pillow. It appears Americans will go to absurd lengths to keep what they claim is "safe." 

Another theme discussed in Bowling for Columbine is the objectification of minorities, for which "white America" continues to make assumptions of thanks to growing crime reportings and falling actual crime rates. Consequently, the remaining few crimes are that much scarier to local news viewers for they are covered in increasing detail as crime is better controlled by law enforcement. 

I adored Moore's tenacity to ask questions so bluntly to political officials, the prosecutor of the six-year-old boy (who shot a six-year-old girl) and even former president of the National Rifle Association, Charlton Heston, where Moore entered Heston's home and asked him questions Heston claimed he was not prepared to answer. In truth, Heston appeared nervous, and more than anything else, cautious not to say anything that would make him appear ignorant why the NRA conducted gatherings following the Columbine and Flint, Michigan shootings.

When I grow up, I really want to live as far away [culturally] from the United States as possible. Then, and only then, will I be able to live among sane and logical individuals who are not so afraid of you that they demand you stay off their property, not greet you and ask you not to pet their dog.

Excessive measures that strive to ensure constant safety act as a deterrent to forming communities, and instead, hinder relationships from forming, families from developing and society from being a healthy social ecosystem for people to co-exist in peace. Instead, we Americans forever live in fear.

Franklin D. Roosevelt is famously quoted saying, "There is nothing to fear but fear itself." I suppose when he said "fear," he meant "ourselves." 

Monday, May 7, 2012

My Instagram Attempts

Over the past two days I have found myself completely engulfed in Instagram. I cannot believe how much fun it is to take my [car] photos and add a few filters, brightener and blur effects.

 I think it's the app's ease of use that makes it so addictive. I mean, it's so simplistic. Who comes up to you and says, "Man, have you tried out this new program?! It's called Photoshop!" By comparison, Photoshop is like molecular physics. 
Also, the speed at which you can produce (churn) pieces of art (shit) out is unparalleled. I include those parentheses because most of the content on Instagram really doesn't deserve filters or any of the other effects the app offers because they're crap with or without the filters. 
People like to feel like they're professionals, when in actuality, they don't deserve half of the attention or support they've garnered. Little do they realize you can take a picture of feasibly anything, Instagramize it and it'll turn out at least alright. 
And yes, I realize, all I damn post are car pictures. Get over it.
I don't know about you, but I think my "work" is a step above the majority of the selfies and wannabe-hipster landfill that take up the majority of Instagram's server storage.
You be the judge.
If I'm honest, the black and white photo above this very text is absolutely exquisite. 
This almost looks like a toy.
Give me your feedback, like always there is room for improvement, or so I'm told.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Enormous Frustration: SCCA Northwest Indiana Region for April 15, 2012

I realize this is weeks old now, but after searching for my results online, I found that for my first official autocross, I did very competently. I felt I deserved a far better result with the times I was clocking it at. But no, the SCCA seems to have a deep-seated hatred for all things BMW.

My, or should I say, my father's 2007 BMW 328xi, for which he was gracious enough to allow me to drive to the [not so] wonderful city of Gary, IN to participate in the Northwest Indiana Region SCCA autocross for Sunday, April 15, 2012.

In an older post, I said how "great" things went. Sure. They went real "great." No really, as cynical as I sound, they really did go quite well. However, I am quite astonished with how unfair the SCCA rulings are for my FULLY, GODDAMN STOCK BMW. Not a single modification was made to this car. Not only because it isn't mine, but also because its sole [and quite sad] purpose to to carry people from the proverbial "point A" to "point B." If you can ever pinpoint them on a map for me, get back to me and I'll give you a cookie.

Anyway, back to how unfair the SCCA is to BMWs. My dad's car was fully stock, and yet, I was placed in the ASP group, which implies that I have GODDAMN high performance tires, GODDAMN coilovers, GODDAMN brake upgrades, and any other sort of GODDAMNNESS. No. I had all-season run-flat tires, OEM brakes, OEM suspension, and not a mod to be seen, unless you consider my sister's wonderfully artistic scrape to the right of the front bumper. But seriously.

 Here are my results if you dare to look. Look for my name, it's "Michael Lenoch," in case you happened to forget. The best raw time I posted was a 48.152. Which is not bad. Not bad at all. Especially noting what I had to work with here, people!

My Results ARE HERE!

See, I am so angry with this situation because of how screwed I got thanks to what the rulebook said. If you look at my, and my fellow novice competitors' raw times, you will see that I fairly got fifth place out of eight. However, I would and [damn well] should have received a better time multiplier from being placed in the D-Stock group, which I never was. Sure, we read it in the handbook. 2006-2010 BMW 3 Series automobiles belong in ASP (that's "A Street Prepared") group, but this made no sense. The only competition I had in my class was a fully modified 1993 Mazda RX-7 with coilovers, summer tires and brakes. Okay, SCCA, that's fair.

And your organization is a joke.

The Subaru BRZ/Scion FR-S, the Everyman's BMW 1M?

Auto journalists have been all abuzz about the new 2013 jointly-developed Subaru BRZ/Scion FR-S. It has been lauded not for its outright power, but instead, for the feedback it communicates to the driver.

Like we have seen late last year, the limited-production 2012 BMW 1M was covered to death by journalists. That car embodied everything auto enthusiasts want out of a car. And the little BMW's overdone coverage was because we are seeing fewer and fewer lightweight, rear-wheel-drive, responsive and plainly fun-to-drive cars.

However, it has not been until now that we are seeing a similar phenomenon. The BRZ and FR-S (which are completely identical cars, with no difference other than badges) are receiving a great deal of attention from auto publications all over the globe.

Unlike the 1M, the small, Japanese "driver's car," can be afforded by nearly anyone. It has a base price starting at $24,930 for the Scion and $25,495 for the Subaru respectively. (I know which one I'd get, especially if they're the exact same car!)

The BMW was sold in limited numbers for a base price of $47,010 (for which, the car is now sold out see here!) That's nearly twice as much as the Scion! Certainly, with that $40-grand+ price tag, you get BMW's newly developed twin-turbo 3.0-liter in-line six cylinder motor that is 135hp over the FR-S/BRZ's puny 200hp boxer four cylinder. But again, you must keep in mind power isn't the FR-S/BRZ's forté, and nor is it meant to be.

Driver connection is where the FR-S/BRZ is meant to excel; just watch Scion Chief Engineer, Tetsuya Tada explain to you in the video above! At this point if you've watched any video reviews of the Scion FR-S or the Subaru BRZ, you probably have noticed journalists pointing out the car's ridiculously low center of gravity, thanks to the boxer engine, which in turn, can be set so low thanks to the car's rear-wheel-drive layout. In a video I watched in fact, it was noted that the driver and passenger sit a mere 23 centimeters above the ground.

So after all this talk about the car's specs, it appears the Scion/Subaru is a rather competent track-day car as well, (despite performing poorly this past weekend at the famed German Nürburgring with a result of 85, 96, 114 and 119 out of 148. See for yourself!) Hopefully this does not serve to dash Toyota/Subaru's ambitions for the future of their platform as a viable race car, the FR-S/BRZ only is the tip of the iceberg for more to come and the cars sell well enough to make other auto manufacturers realize there actually is a market for fun cars.

Who woulda' thunk it, right?